Trottenberg: NYPD is Still a Valued Partner for DOT

Is this a Vision Zero partner? A cop uses his bike to bash a protester.
Is this a Vision Zero partner? A cop uses his bike to bash a protester.

She’s seen the videos of the NYPD officers using squad cars to disperse and injure protesters. She’s aware that a cop used his department-issued bike as a weapon against a demonstrator. She knows that New York City police officers have used batons and fists and pepper spray to bring down and brutalize New Yorkers in public space.

But Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg would not commit on Monday to reducing or eliminating her agency’s partnership with the NYPD — even as municipal agencies around the country, such as Minneapolis’s school district, are divesting from their relationships with their local police department.

It’s a hot-button issue — and one Trottenberg has largely avoided as the city erupted in 11 days of massive protests against police brutality in general and, specifically, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. In the wake of the police killing, many advocates of police reform have called for cops to be massively defunded and for the severing of their many tentacles into adjacent agencies.

Staffers at the Department of Education in New York have asked for their agency to “disassociate ourselves from institutional racism and to affirm that black lives matter,” the Daily News reported last week. And planner Destiny Thomas recently said transportation departments must do the same thing.

“Public works and transportation agencies should produce and publish a concrete plan for divestment from police agencies,” she wrote on Monday on City Lab. “This includes both fiscal and values-based components: Enforcement should be replaced with accessibility and accountability, and funds to police should be redistributed to community-based organizations, direct service providers and behavioral health specialists that are equipped to uphold dignity and care for everyone within the built environment.”

A similar argument was recently put forward by Cyclista Zine.

Given all that is happening to recenter the debate around communities of color that have long been mistreated, it was time for Trottenberg to sit in the hot seat, albeit at an unrelated press conference about bus improvements. First, a transcript so that nothing is lost in the editing:

Streetsblog: We would be remiss if we didn’t bring up the protests against police for their use of aggressive tactics, including the use of squad cars to disburse protesters and, in a couple of videos we published, beating cyclists with batons. I am only raising this because the DOT has a very close relationship with the NYPD — one that more and more people within the police reform movement are saying should be rethought. Are you rethinking it? Are there members of your staff who are rethinking this?

Trottenberg: I’m just the DOT commissioner, but obviously the topic of what is happening with the NYPD right now is a big one. I’ll echo what the mayor said. Obviously, he has seen some of those incidents and he has said they’re unacceptable. There’s obviously a lot of debate right now … and the City Council will take a look at that. But let’s put the protest aside because it’s above my pay grade to be honest with you. I want to point to the 14th Street [Busway]. Part of the reason we have had such an incredible success is because of our partnership with the NYPD. And I’m hoping they’ll be great partners, too, as we roll out five new busways and new bus lanes. There will be a lot of debate and it will be centered around the city budget, which needs to get passed by the end of the month.

Streetsblog: Sure, but on a personal level, when you saw the videos of the cars going into the protesters…

Trottenberg: (interrupting) I’m not going to talk about my personal feelings today.

But, apparently, she would. After a bus-related question from another reporter, Trottenberg changed tack and addressed her emotions — something she had done with an internal message to her agency’s 5,500 employees, which was posted on Saturday on Instagram.

Trottenberg: I do want to say one thing about my personal feelings. It has been a super-emotional time in the city. … all of us in city government have found this to be a very profound time. As someone who runs an agency that has a big impact on people’s lives on the streets, it has certainly made us want to double down on our efforts to make sure that all the work we do — bike lanes, bus lanes, safety — that we’re committing to doing it in every part of the city. Some of this we have to do in partnership with the MTA. We need affordable, high quality transportation access to jobs, to education to all the phenomenal opportunities this city has to offer. Likewise on a personal note, in my agency, I’m proud to say we’ve made a lot of progress on. the last six years, but there’s more work to be done to make sure our agencies represent the diversity of the city, from the top leadership ranks on down and everyone in our agency feels like their voices are heard, that they’re protected and understood. … On the NYPD front, no one loves the pictures of the protest, but there are a lot of potentially good reforms that are going to come out of this moment. DOT is committed to being a part of it.

Where will all this lead? It’s unclear. But then again, two days after defiantly saying he would not cut the NYPD budget, Mayor de Blasio did, indeed, agree to “significant” cuts — and he took some responsibilities away from the NYPD.

And a source inside DOT said agency staffers are talking about drafting an open letter like the one distributed to the press by disenchanted current and former city staffers.

Stay tuned.

 

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